5x5: Brian Evenson

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Illustrations by Josephine Demme

In this series five different writers talk to one writer about five (or more) of his different books. In this fourth interview, Hayden Bennett talks to Brian Evenson about A Collapse of HorsesRead the first interview with Colin Winnettethe second with Matt Bellthe third with Brian Connthe fourth with Amina Cain.

Hayden Bennett in Conversation with Brian Evenson

To figure out this series, Brian Evenson and I had been corresponding for a few months, and he asked me if I wanted to talk about his not-yet-released collection, A Collapse of Horses. I read the book in one sitting in the basement of a bookstore and when I went out into the afternoon and down the street, I saw a subway grate and had to stop. For a reason not known to me, all I could do was look at the subway grate. Something about it scared me and looking at it evoked a physical memory of reading the stories. And whatever might actually be scary about subway grates and New York City transit aside, Evenson’s collection had done something, to me, it always does.

In the essay On the Short Story and Its Environs, Julio Cortázar writes about a certain kind of obsessive and fantastical story, and about, in its making, “the abominable clot that has to be worked out with words.” To work out the clot isn’t at all literary, Cortázar says, but is rather a transmission from a place where everything is decidedly foreign to the everyday self. Cortázar explains the effect of the story relies on the author’s ability to transfer an obsession to the reader, and gives her the impression that what she’s read has somehow arisen out of herself.

And that, I think, is the effect Brian Evenson’s work has always had on me: his best stories are able to possess in a way they seem to have posessed the author, and to read his work can be like picking up a signal from an unknown frequency, or discovering a new and strange room in your house.

A Collapse of Horses stands with Evenson’s best work, and the book made me think of Cortázar’s essay because the stories evoke the sort of atmosphere that there’s no real way to analyze. The concern of the collection (which I think can be summed up in the title story: a man sees horses lying down and becomes obsessed with whether they’re asleep or dead) makes me think of Beckett. The fixed point of reality in many of these stories is liable to change, but in this collection, more than anywhere, Evenson always feels generous, human. The book has control over nearly any subject matter, and while it rotates around questions of reality, obsessions, and past lives, the stories seem to move wherever they want: from a man in the hospital given a form that orders him to Return to Normal Sexual Activity, to a story that began as a response to Sean Connery's Outland, about dust baffling the vents on a mining ship, to a story about a teddy bear that plays back a pre-natal heartbeat.

Cortázar, too, has the best way to describe what I consider to be the effect of Evenson’s stories: “Stories of this type are affixed like indelible scars on any reader who can appreciate them: they are living creatures, complete organisms, closed circles, and they breathe.”

—Hayden Bennett

I. I’VE FORTUNATELY NEVER WOKEN UP IN A CELL

HAYDEN BENNETT: A lot of the stories in A Collapse of Horses seem concerned with their own telling—the inability to make sense out of a certain event, but the insistence on trying to do so. It’s a concern that runs through a lot of your work, but the characters in this collection especially seemed set on the need to fix things, or to orient themselves in situations that will in no way allow orientation. It might have to do with the fact that a lot of these stories start after it’s already too late.

BRIAN EVENSON: As you say, it’s something that’s common in a lot of my work, a sense of dread, a sense of people becoming aware of things only after it’s too late to do anything to change them. That may be intensified here in the sense that we see a number of the characters poring obsessively over their past or past events, trying to make sense of them, and usually failing. Though that process does change how they think about themselves in the present.

Narrative is not quite a way out, but it at least makes them feel like they’re doing something:  it’s simultaneously a relief and a trap, as I think the stories we tell ourselves about why things went wrong—why we didn’t get the job, why our ex broke up with us, why something was or wasn’t our fault—tend to be. They at once make us feel better and mire us. That’s maybe clearest in “And Yet,” where the main character can’t imagine a life outside of the situation of someone abandoning someone else, can only get herself to the point of thinking she can change her role within that situation, in a way that I find chilling, a way that’s kind of giving up her sense of herself and her ability to love as a way of protecting herself from damage.

I’ve fortunately never woken up in a cell, but I did wake up once in the hospital with a half dozen nurses gathered around me looking worried. Once they saw I was conscious they became very reticent to tell me what had happened, and I was drugged enough to let that slide. The last thing I’d remembered before that had been being on a table in a room beneath a medical apparatus and beginning to shake uncontrollably. Then I blacked out. Would I be happier if I had some account of what happened in the three hours between when I blacked out and when I woke up surrounded by nurses?  Probably not, but having a narrative hole there and not knowing how close I was or wasn’t to dying haunts me too.

HB: That makes me think of the title story in this collection: it poses that hole exactly, and what to do when put up against it. You write, “Not knowing is something you can only suspend yourself in for the briefest moment.” Except a lot of the characters seem stuck there, obsessively trying to use logic to get out. You’ve talked about turning over the same concerns. Is it a conscious decision to set the theme in the title story and play off and constantly rework it or does that happen on its own?

BE: It’s not a conscious decision. Any time I put together a story collection, I don’t know what it’s going to look like overall—or even what the title story is going to be. Over time, I end up with a dozen or so stories, and I start to see a shape to them, how they fit together, and then I write stories that complement or extend that shape. I think it’s more subconscious. Those concerns are already circulating in my head so I keep on going back to them without really realizing.

HB: In this collection and The Wavering Knife especially, the concerns stood out. The title story poses a question that’s only questioned further by the other stories. 

BE: A Collapse of Horses and The Wavering Knife are more focused than some of my other collections, in terms of having a set of concerns they’re interested in. I think partly there’s a set of ontological concerns: what it means to be. And also knowledge is something in all my stories: what it means to know something, whether it’s even possible to know anything. Those are prominent enough concerns that we can’t help but feel the weight in the stories, even if they’re hidden. 

II. MOMENTS YOU CAN’T JUST COMPLETE OR FILL OUT

HB: What is it in fiction that makes it feel like the right form for investigating those kinds of things?

BE: For me, it’s that fiction allows you to embody and explore those kinds of ideas in a different way than philosophy would. I really believe, along with people like Merleau-Ponty and Whitehead, that there has to be a sort of embodiment of an idea.

I’m not really a philosopher—I’m interested in all those ideas, but I’m also interested in seeing what happens when people interact.

I think most philosophy or metaphysics just doesn’t do well with embodying ideas. Ideas end up feeling like they’re distinct or separate. Fiction allows you to explore that in a different way. It has its limits as well—you can’t be overly theoretical in fiction, you can’t end up extrapolating an idea in any kind of intensive minute detail.  Everything becomes situational: A man sees a number of horses, he thinks they might be dead but he can’t tell if they’re dead or not. How does the mind work on this? I become so interested in those moments in my own life where I’m not sure what it is that I saw or what what I saw or heard or felt means—those moments you can’t just complete or fill out are really interesting to investigate in terms of fiction.

HB: That specificity seems to open up that space of not knowing, of seeing the horses, and that having to relate to everything else in his life, try out case studies, and then of seeing that same shape further refracted to all of the other stories. 

BE: Yeah. I think it’s one thing to say theoretically we don’t know anything for certain. It’s quite another thing to illustrate that or genuinely feel that. That may be the distinction as much as anything else, in that you’re moving from ideas to feelings and the way in which those ideas inspire feelings—there was a path in philosophy with people like Alfred North Whitehead that suggested that as a realm of investigation, that it’s the embodiment of ideas that’s the thing, but I think philosophy in general has not moved in that direction.

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HB: Rivka Galchen has talked about how when she trained as a psychologist, they only gave her blueprints for problems. Listening to what Freud—or whoever—said and taking that as a sort of key.

BE: You can certainly see that with her first book, Atmospheric Disturbances, which I admire. In terms of my own experience, I read philosophers almost like they’re fiction writers, so I read in a pretty eccentric way. I think what makes something like Freud’s case studies so great is what Ben Marcus has mentioned: they read like fiction. They’re character sketches, they feel like stories, and so the gap between those two things is not as wide as people would normally have us believe.

And I think, yeah, philosophy does provide me a structure and a way of thinking. Religion—like the religion I grew up with, Mormonism—also provides a way of thinking. And I think those two structures—one highly logical, the other anything but—are always part of my thought process as I’m putting together a story. You put those two things together—ways of formatting language and of formatting the world—and add to them the way in which we arrange language as a writer and the kind of care with which writers look at rhythm and syntax, and it ends up being this complicated negotiation between various different forces.

HB: They’re both there.

BE: Yeah, absolutely. 

III. CLOGGING THE VENTS

HB: You’ve talked about borrowing from certain places, you were talking in an interview with Ben Marcus about taking the first sentence of Altmann’s Tongue… 

BE: The beginning of “The Sanza Affair” was taken from the beginning of a Leonardo Sciascia novel. I respond to things I read a lot, and a lot of time when I’m reading something it takes a turn that makes me think, oh it could have gone in this other direction…  That often will be the moment of genesis for an idea or story for me.

HB: Does it break off after that moment of genesis and become yours? 

BE: Yeah, very quickly I think it becomes mine. So without me saying “There’s this connection that’s there”, very few people would recognize the connection. 

HB: Do you find that there’s a difference between those stories versus those that respond to what’s happened in your life?

BE: I don’t see a distinction between those two things. I’d say all those things sort of feed into my story process, and so there may be things that are connected to my life, but the story also very quickly moves away from being my life. There’s things connected to what I read but the story also moves very quickly away from that as well. So it is this kind of process of intense synthesis, of bringing different things together.

Ideas for stories come in really different terms and really different ways for me. Sometimes they’re from books, sometimes they’re just kind of out of the air, from nowhere, sometimes they’re biographical, or sometimes they’re other things. Or it can even be something like what happened with “The Dust,” the story that’s in this collection. It’s a response to my interest in Outland the Sean Connery movie, but also very quickly it’s not about Outland anymore, and you have these other little seeds that start moving the story in very different directions.

Or “BearHeart” is something, you know—I have a twenty-one-month-old baby—and when we were in the doctor’s office doing a pre-natal visit, there was a flyer up about recording a fetus’s heartbeat and putting it in a stuffed bear. I was kind of horrified by this. It was a really strange idea and just asking to be made into a story. 

HB: There was a very strange movement in the book from the “The Dust” to “BearHeart”—from being on another planet, to flyers for pregnancy workout classes.

BE: There is something so weird and uncanny about the “BearHeart” stuff, and it’s in this kind of homely world.  I think the juxtaposition to “The Dust” emphasizes that banality or regularness of the world more than it would be if the story was just on its own. “The Dust” is a longer story, so you live in that world long enough that you just kind of get used to it, being enclosed in this hostile, claustrophobic space. 

HB: The world of the story, or…?

BE: The world of the story. It’s the story that’s otherworldly, but you see so little of the other world that the whole world is just reduced to the strange thing that’s clogging the vents. 

HB: That’s a few of these stories. “A Report” is sort of about not knowing and trying to piece together a logic, without really being given any ability to do so.

BE: Most of these stories are really tied to that notion of trying to make sense of the world that you just can’t make sense of, or trying to make logic work in a way that just doesn’t necessarily work.

HB: There’s a quote from that story—“A Report”—that goes: “You can imagine the man in a cell next to you. You can give him an appearance… that of someone close to you—a brother, father a friend, but there will always be a gap between name and body.”

BE: That’s something that we think of as a common thing. Post-structuralism talks about—Derrida in particularthe idea that there’s always a gap between the sign and the signifier. But it’s very different to say that as opposed to being in a situation like: you’re in a cell and you’re wondering what’s going on and imagining imprisoned people into existence around you.

HB: In that story too, there’s a confusion of pronouns like in the other stories between you and I—and that made me think of Borges and I—and a split way of dealing with self. 

BE: There is a kind of sense of interchangeability that starts to happen in a couple of the stories, where you can occupy these different subject positions.  There’s something about the positions that makes them feel flexible, so you’re in one, but before you know it you’re in another one.

IV. MY MIND JUST NEEDS TO BE ABLE TO OPERATE UNTRAMMELED

HB: It almost felt like there was a split in the collection that started with “And Yet,” a story about in a relationship where the girl left behind doesn’t know anything about the boyfriend who’s left, and then the story ultimately ends on a reversal: being the one who’s going to leave instead of the one being left. 

BE: Yeah, no, that’s absolutely true: you’re taking on someone else’s role as a way of not having to have your own role. Even in the first story, Maternity,” which is really different from many of the others, the nurse takes on the roles of what would it be like to be a mother, or what it would be like to steal a baby, and ultimately she’s unable to hold on to either of those roles.  Still, there’s this sense of wanting to move away from yourself to some degree. Yeah that’s something I hadn’t thought about, but this collection definitely has that aspect to it. 

HB: Of interchangeability?

BE: Interchangeability, but also disorientation from who you are, from a sense of self.

HB: “Maternity” is from the role of the nurse who deals with things that happened after the stillborn, and “BearHeart” is sort of another role in that same situation with something totally different happening.

BE: Yeah, I mean those are not biographical stories in any way, but they’re the stories in the collection that have the most kind of direct biographical triggers—being in the hospital with my wife and our baby and seeing all the safeguards that are in place really kind of triggered my thinking about “Maternity”. 

HB: It’s another interesting role shift, how in “Maternity” you get the nurse’s work life but her home life is basically non-existent—it’s basically just waiting to get back to the work life.

BE: That’s another thing I’ve become more interested in: where does your life reside? What does it mean to have this segmented life? We all have lives that are kind of broken up into these different sections and parts that are kind of like segments on a line, and we play all these different roles and different parts.  But I think we can very easily start to think, “My real life resides here,” and as a result we just don’t live the other parts of our lives very fully. 

HB: Yeah, I wondered about that. There was a line in “The Punish” about Wilhelm “cramming himself into a slot that fit him best”, and there’s this movement, like there is in a lot of the other stories, from when he’s eight to the next paragraph when he’s fifty—because really its the event that matters to the story, and through it, you get a sense of his whole life.

BE: You’re right, yeah. In that story something happened to him when he was very young that was transformative, but doesn’t feel finished for him. As a result, it feels like everything else in his life feels more artificial than it should. It’s not that it’s terrible or anything, it’s just that he doesn’t occupy it, and in a way he’s still haunted by this early moment and experience. And you know a lot of these stories are about this inability to move on, the sense of feeling trapped by something, or of something returning from the past.

HB: Is that a different way of seeing time? 

BE: I think it’s a pretty human way of seeing time, because we live in a space where things don’t always end. Time just isn’t linear for us in the way that we might like to think.  We have this kind of accumulation of stuff that we just drag along with us that anchors us back to the past, or in some cases tries to make us project into the future prematurely.

HB: What is style as you conceive of it? How do you come up with the rules that make these stories? 

BE: It may not seem like it because of the ways the stories function, but I’m pretty instinctual when I write, and I really like to get to a point where I’m writing where I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Usually when I get to that point, something will happen that I find intriguing or interesting, or that will push the fiction in a way that I really like. 

HB: Is style itself something conscious then? Because I’m thinking about that interview you did on Molloy, about Beckett writing in French to write without style.

BE: It is and it isn’t conscious. I say that, but I spend a lot of time meticulously editing sentences. But again, I feel like it’s almost more instinctive. It’s not that I have this model that I try to make fit. It’s that I’m looking for these patterns of sound, and I both want them and I don’t want them to be too obvious. I want them to be felt subcutaneously, but not noticed, at least not by too many readers. One of the primary differences for me between fiction and poetry is that fiction uses every sort of tool that poetry does but hides it much, much more. Fiction doesn’t necessarily reveal what it’s doing with rhythm and sound and patterning.

You know, my earlier fiction, my first book Altmann’s Tongue—a lot of that stuff is more on the surface. There’s a very conscious use of repetition, there’s a kind of very minimalist use of style, but I’d say those things are still in these later stories as well. The sentences are often a little more Jamesian, for lack of a better term. They’re a little more convoluted sometimes, very deliberately so, but still trying to be clear, and then there is that kind of minimalist or sparse quality to those pieces as well. But style, I would think that if you take one of these stories and take a story from one of my earlier collections and have someone read both of them, they would see a connection. But I don’t know if that’s just wishful thinking on my part.

HB: That makes sense to me.

BE: I think there’s a particular rhythm that I have, although it changes from story to story a little bit, and I think there are slight eccentricities to the way I use things like prepositions or, you know, the fact that I have these lists from which I exclude the word “and” sometimes. Little things that may have become established style, but I don’t think I can sit down and say, here are the elements of my style. As soon as I could do that—because I’m very contrary as a human being—I’d change it to something else. When I say I’m instinctive, I do feel like I need to hide what I’m doing from myself. My mind just needs to be able to operate untrammeled.

HB: Yeah—

BE: I’m kind of dodging the question is what I feel like.

HB: There are things that are formed in you that you can’t really see, and once you start to see them, you want to change them. Something like that? 

BE: Yeah, it’s like that. Part of that is not wanting to be pinned down. There is something kind of evasive about me, so that even though there is a lot in my work in terms of the concerns that keep coming up, I still think in this collection there are stories that people who have read my other work wouldn’t expect. It’ll take them a minute to get their head around.

HB:  Because of how they’re written or because of the spaces they inhabit?

BE: Partly because of the spaces they inhabit. For instance, “Maternity” is very different on the surface from any story I’ve written before. But I think as you think about it and read it you realize, oh, it is quite connected to what I do, but it just kind of goes about it in this new way. It’s connected, but it creates a new pattern or shape for the work as a whole.

There’s often in my collection a story that seems like it’s on the outside, so like the “ACDC” story in Windeye: there’s a moment when you’re comfortably reading the book when you’re suddenly unsettled.

HB: I remember that, actually. 

BE: And I do like the movement from “Dust” to “BearHeart.” I like that moment as a reader, feeling a little bit unsettled by what the writer is saying.  The movement of one thing to another and having to shift gears can be pretty productive.

HB: So you read story collections through, generally.

BE: I do. Yeah, I read individual stories a lot in magazines and other places, too, but I really think there’s something to be said for reading story collections as collections. That’s not true of all story collections, to be honest, but for good ones I think it often is true. 

HB: Like the Kyle Minor collection that had the note that said, “Read these in order.”

BE: Praying Drunk, yeah, which I think is actually quite a great collection. It’s a question of, are you just putting something together, or do you have something that’s building up?

V. DYNAMICS OF THE SENTENCE

HB: Maybe it was just me, but I kept writing down that I kept seeing the presence of Bernhard in the obsessive logic, and then I opened the Wavering Knife and the first thing I read was a note I’d written about Bernhard. And I looked up that Ben Marcus interview and there, again, was something about Bernhard.

BE: I love his work. I think he’s really a terrific writer. He’s been a huge influence on me. I did an introduction to Three Novellas. I really admired them. One thing that so intrigues me about that book is that all three novellas are pretty different but they still all kind of talk to one another in interesting ways. And then his work as a whole I really love. I think my favorite novel of all time is Correction. Top ten anyway.

HB: Three Novellas is pretty interesting too because he’s someone with whom you can see the development of style.

BE: Yeah, I think it’s always very informative to read early work by people and see how the style develops, but for me, Amras, the first novella in there, is pretty effective, but you can only see certain aspects of the style that really become important to him later on. And in fact Amras was really important to me. I read it in French before it came out in English, and it was very important to an earlier story of mine called “By Halves” in Contagion. And for me, Walking, the last novella, is so quintessentially Bernhard. But the middle one, which suddenly I’m forgetting the name of… 

HB: Playing Watten

BE: Playing Watten—I love that one. 

HB: Yeah, me too. 

BE: That’s my favorite.  And it’s partly because he’s figured out what he’s doing but he hasn’t formalized it quite yet, so there’s a different sort of flexibility… 

HB: He gives you the justificatory framework where he doesn’t later. He explains why he’s going to give the monologue. And later that’s all just gone.

BE: Yeah, exactly.

HB: What do you conceive of as atmosphere when reading a story?

BE: A lot of my revision process is cutting and stripping back, and leaving things closer to being unexplained. I’m very interested in creating particular kinds of feelings and tone, and above all I try to unsettle things a little bit. I think that creation of mood is conscious, but as much of it is done by really careful use of syntax as by doing something frightening or scary. It’s really the dynamics of the sentence as much as anything, and it is a sense of sometimes doing things like introducing doubt in terms of using a lot of qualifiers and having everything seem more speculative and uncertain than it normally might.

HB: Is it kind of arriving at a feeling that originally generated the story for you? The mood that you’re going for? 

BE: Not necessarily, I think it depends a little bit. Often when I’m starting a story, I don’t have a clear sense of the mood. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. In “The Punish,” I had a sense of it. But Maternity,” the way it ended was kind of a surprise. I don’t always know what’s going to go on in terms of the mood of the story. Sometimes I start with the mood, but sometimes I just try to work toward discovering it. But I do think often there’s a mood or unsettling quality, in which the reality of the world seems to be taken away, that I really love, and it’s something that I almost always unconsciously move toward.

HB: In terms of what’s taken away and what’s kept? 

BE: In terms of what’s taken away, in terms of introducing conditional tenses, in terms of starting to question what’s going on, in terms of the sections of the characters, in the way dreams start to invade the reality of the situation sometimes, misunderstandings… 

HB: I wanted to ask when you were talking about reading an author and seeing their earlier work, is there anyone you can think of with whom it was particularly helpful to do? 

BE: With Bernhard it was actually really interesting to me. It was pretty important to see On The Mountain, which was an early book, and then also Amras—seeing how he developed as time went on. I always find it intriguing just to see how people develop and change. Sometimes it’s not useful. Beckett was the first one I did that to, where I really started paying attention to the earlier works and seeing how he changed and what he cut. Beckett was very instructive in that way. His practice is like mine.  When he moves from English to French, there’s a kind of deliberate poverty in terms of the choices he could make in going from someone who had this incredibly vast, and even kind of esoteric sense of English vocabulary and language to writing in a language that’s not his own and having restricted number of choices. Seeing that, and seeing how certain ideas survive through that and what changes, was really useful for me.

HB: What can you think of his that was using all his vocabulary?

BE: Very early stuff does that, so it would be the first set of stories, which…I forget what it’s called, but the collection with “Dante and the Lobster” in it, which I’m just not remembering the title… More Pricks Than Kicks.  And then there were a couple of unpublished novels, Echo’s Bones, which just came out. Murphy seemed already like it was turning toward something else. Dream of Fair to Middling Women, which was something that was written in the ‘30s but not published till much later, is probably where it’s the most prominent. It’s like Beckett’s writing like James Joyce, trying to imitate Joyce. To go from that to the trilogy, I talked about that recently. Molloy is the great departure for him, the beginning of something. It really changes things in ways that are really interesting.

HB: It’s interesting to see a stopping place, almost, for me at least, where there’s more paring back to novels.

BE: Yeah. The Trilogy and Molloy is there particularly. And I still love the short later stuff, but the balance it’s at is not quite as satisfying for me as it is as the trilogy. I still love Bernhard and Beckett all the way through, but the things I really cling to with Beckett come when he first starts writing in French. 

HB: Another Kyle Minor thing was that I heard him talk about reading Philip Roth all the way through and DeLillo all the way through and seeing that change. 

BE: Yeah, DeLillo, I’ve read DeLillo all the way through. It does really change in interesting ways. I do really like the mid-DeLillo stuff, like the football novel, End Zone, and some other stuff, Ratner’s Star for instance.  I like the later stuff as well, I totally understand that, but there’s that curious thing that happens between Underworld and The Body Artist that changes really dramatically. That’s interesting, because we’re talking about someone who’s really well known, who’s at the top of his career.  He doesn’t have to do that, he doesn’t have to change radically, he can keep on writing the same sort of thing and everybody would be happy, and he just doesn’t.  That’s really interesting. 

HB: To see if there’s a sort of ideal fit for the form of what Underworld wants if you’re going to write a thousand page book. 

BE: And the contrast, the fact that those books came out one after the other, was very intriguing as well—to go from a thousand pages to a hundred thirty pages.

HB: And everything he’s published since has been pretty short, right?

BE: Yeah, Cosmopolis was a little longer, but Point Omega is also pretty short and has a lot of similarities to The Body Artist in terms of the way it explores visual arts.

HB: His style shifts as well—I’m thinking about the way Lish edits it, and how different that is, but you can almost see him returning to what he did before.

BE: There are these shifts, but despite the shifts there’s always something that’s recognizably DeLillo about him, stylistically. There are these connections that stretch. 

HB: I wonder if you think your fiction still offers the same kind of religion that it did around when Altmann’s Tongue came out, when you said, if it does offer a religion, “[It] is a collapse of the ethical will, hopeless from the start, and that will convert nobody.” Do you still see fiction in part as a construction of a religion, or has it changed into something else?

BE: Since I was literally put in a position where I had to choose between my writing and my religion, I think writing did come to feel like a sort of substitute for religion for me, the thing I had instead of it.  I think what I said is still somewhat true, but I guess I’d argue that my work has become more about the inability of any system—logical, philosophical, religious—to make the world a stable place.  My fiction is a place where all these ways of trying to apprehend reality and make sense of it are breaking down, falling apart.  But there’s something both meaningful and exhilarating about being able to recognize the weaknesses in the systems that you use as a framework to understand reality, to come to an understanding that you don’t understand things as well as you might have thought.  Which I guess means that I’ve given up the religion of the collapse of the ethical will and replaced it with a sort of anti-religion about the instability of reality, and that I do think it’s possible to convert people to such a view.

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Week 1: Colin Winnette on Baby Leg and Dark Property.

Week 2: Matt Bell on The Open Curtain.

Week 3: Brian Conn on Immobility.

Week 4: Amina Cain on Fugue State.

Several stories from the collection are available to read online:

A Collapse of Horses"—The American Reader

The Blood Drip“—Granta

And Yet“—Granta

Hayden Bennett is the deputy editor of the Believer.